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Options when leaving school or college

There are lots of options for work, training or further study when you leave school. You might not know what career you want. You might feel more confident about getting a job than doing exams or academic study. Or you might want to learn more about a subject you’ve studied at school.

You might feel pressure from school or parents to make a certain choice. But it’s up to you to decide what you want to do. Take your time and research the options before you make a decision.

Your school or college should have a careers adviser. They can help you:

  • understand your options
  • find support to apply for study, work or training
  • organise work experience so you can try out different careers

Getting work experience

If you are 16 or 17

In England, you must stay in education or training until you are 18. If you are leaving school or college, you’re guaranteed a place on a further education course the following autumn if you’re under 18.

This could be:

  • full-time education
  • an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • part-time study while working

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can leave school when you are 16.

When you can leave school (GOV.UK)

Vocational and academic courses at college

These are practical courses that teach you skills for a particular profession. Examples include IT, construction, television production, digital media, hairdressing, catering and hospitality.

Colleges offer many different qualifications, including:

  • Higher National Certificates (HNC)
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC)
  • National Vocational Qualification (NVQ)

You can also complete academic qualifications at college, such as GCSE, A level and T level.

Quiz: What qualifications are right for you? (UCAS)

Explaining qualification levels (NI Direct)

Finding college courses near you

If your school does not offer sixth form, you can complete your studies at a local college. Look for colleges near you and search for courses on their website. You can study for A levels or choose another qualification.

If you’re interested in a vocational course but you’re not sure what to study, find out what is available in your area.

When you find a course you’re interested in, click on the ‘course enquiry’ link on the college website. This should tell you:

  • more about what skills you will learn
  • how you will study
  • when the course starts

If you cannot find something that suits you, call the college and tell them what you are interested in.

Some colleges can be flexible about entry requirements so always ask! Speak to the tutors for the course you want to join.

Find a college in England (GOV.UK)

Find a course in Wales (Careers Wales)

Find a course by subject, provider or location (National Careers Service)

Financial support for students aged 16 to 19


Apprenticeships combine training at work with classroom or home learning. They offer an alternative to academic qualifications such as A levels.

As an apprentice, you will get:

  • new skills
  • experience of being at work with other people
  • a regular wage and holiday pay
  • training and study towards a qualification

You will get real experience that can help you get a job in the future. Apprenticeships can be a good way into employment if you prefer practical work to academic study.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of careers. These include:

  • engineering
  • software development
  • gardening
  • marketing
  • events management

Search on your local authority’s website for ‘apprenticeships’ to find opportunities near you.

Find an apprenticeship (GOV.UK)

Apprenticeships (Get My First Job)

Find apprenticeships and training (Not Going to Uni)

Disabled Apprentice Network

Applying for an apprenticeship

You will go through a process similar to applying for a job. You may have to:

  • complete an application form
  • send a personal statement
  • take part in an interview

Your school or college careers adviser can help you to apply.

Apprenticeships can be at intermediate, advanced, higher and degree levels. The level you study at depends on what qualifications you have gained at school or college.

For example, if you have completed your GSCEs, you can apply for an advanced apprenticeship equivalent to 2 A level passes. If you have completed A levels, you can study for a higher or degree qualification.

Intermediate apprenticeships (All About School Leavers)

Supported internships

Supported internships provide unpaid work experience for people who need extra support to move into employment. They usually last from 6 months to a year.

You can apply for a supported internship if you are aged 16 to 25.

Supported internships may not be available in the industry you are interested in. They can still be a great way to get used to the work environment with support from a job coach or manager.

You can find out about supported internships in your area from:

  • the Careers Leader at your school or a local college
  • your social worker or transition worker
  • job centre
  • your local authority’s ‘Local Offer’ website (search for ‘supported internship’)
  • DFN Project Search, which runs supported internships for young learning disabled people and people with autism

Find a programme near you (DFN Project Search)

Accessible guide to supported internships (Preparing for Adulthood)

Find your local council (GOV.UK)


A traineeship is a course with work experience for people aged 16 to 24. Courses help build your skills and confidence for work.

Traineeships last from 8 weeks to 6 months. You can get help with English and maths if you need it. You will not be paid but you might get expenses, such as travel. A traineeship can help you get ready for work or an apprenticeship.

Traineeships and apprenticeship for disabled people (BBC)

Find a traineeship (GOV.UK)

Finding a job

You can go straight into work when you leave school or college. If you have little or no work experience, it can take time to find your first job.

Your local job centre can help you:

  • find local job opportunities
  • apply for benefits to support living costs while you look for a job
  • get training to help you get a job, such as preparing for interviews or IT skills

Find a Jobcentre Plus (GOV.UK)

Starting Line is Scope's pre-employment training programme. It is for disabled people at the start of their journey into work.

Finding jobs

Training for work


Setting up your own business can be exciting and rewarding. But you will be responsible for paying your own wages. There can be many costs involved in starting up, such as the cost of premises, stock, equipment and insurance. You will need:

  • drive and determination
  • funds to cover your startup costs and living costs before you make a profit
  • skills to manage and promote your business

You can get free advice and training to help you get started.

Funding for startup costs (UnLtd)

Support for starting a business (Prince’s Trust)

Starting a business

Taking time out

If you’re not sure where you want to go next, you could take a gap year between school and further study or work. You could use the time to:

  • get a part-time job and build up your savings
  • get unpaid work experience to build your confidence for work
  • travel
  • volunteer to gain new skills
  • try out self-directed study, such as free online courses

Some young people feel anxious or lost if they are not working or studying. Set out a plan for what you want to do and what you want to learn. It will be easier to find a job if you can show what you’ve learnt during your time off. If you try something and decide it’s not for you, you can change your plan.

If you decide to go into further study, spend some time researching what is on offer. Check when you need to apply. Most courses will have 1 application deadline per year.

Volunteering to develop skills for work

Browse online courses (Coursera)

Taking a gap year (Prospects)


Universities offer a huge range of courses and qualifications. Most students start with an undergraduate degree.

Some people choose to do a foundation year. This is a way into university if you’re not ready to study for a degree yet. You may not need to have A levels to apply for a Foundation year, depending on which course you choose.

Many young people go to university to learn more about a subject before they decide what career to go into. Others go to gain a specialist degree, such as medicine, architecture or town planning.

University courses can be full-time or part-time. If you are not ready to start straight after leaving school, you can apply for a deferred place. This means that you can take a year out before you start your course.

Your school or college will help you to apply.

Thinking about uni (UCAS)

What is a foundation year? (Prospects)

Flexible, online study (Open University)

Help with funding for further study

If you have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), you have a right to support for education up to the age of 25. You may need to explain why you want to continue studying after school or college.

Help to continue your education

Search online for ‘SENDIASS’ and the name of your local authority.

SENDIASS stands for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Services.

They will give you impartial, confidential and free advice and help to:

  • get the support you need at school or college
  • choose or visit a college
  • apply for college
  • fill in forms or write letters

Last reviewed by Scope on: 11/05/2022

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